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Meloan, Brown continue second-half star turns
By Will Kimmey
OMAHA--A change in roles led to a change in fortunes for two Arizona sophomores and the entire Wildcats team. Righthander John Meloan and first baseman Jordan Brown began the year in supporting roles, but each emerged as vital players in the team's late-season success once they moved into the starting lineup.
Meloan went undefeated as a starter, and Brown led the team in home runs. Each sophomore did his part Sunday in a 7-2 win against Arkansas at Rosenblatt Stadium. Meloan stayed perfect, and Brown cranked two of Arizona's four home runs--the same number hit in the four previous games at this year's College World Series. The Wildcats also swiped six bases, including three by Brad Boyer, who added three hits in starting his fourth straight game after losing his starting role earlier this season.
"We put it all together," Arizona coach Andy Lopez said. "John Meloan set a good tone, Mark Melancon did a good job (in relief), we were aggressive on the bases and obviously we got some big hits with the long ball."
Arizona eliminated Arkansas (45-24) from the CWS and advanced to face the loser of tonight's Texas-Georgia game on Tuesday at 2 p.m. Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn fell to 0-6 in his CWS career, having lost his first four games as Nebraska's coach in 2001-02.
"We might have gotten more out of our team than anybody in the country this year," Van Horn said. "This team has come so far from the fall. I'm really proud of them.
"A lot of the little things we worried about all year kind of all came out today. We swung at bad pitches, and we didn't drive anybody in."
Meloan also played a role in Arkansas' struggles. He allowed two earned runs on five hits in 6 1/3 innings to win to improve to 10-0.
"I really didn't do anything differently," Meloan said. "I put it over the plate. It's just a matter of mixing your pitches and hitting your spots. No matter who you're facing in college baseball, good pitches are going to get guys out."
Meloan didn't always have the confidence to invite contact and often would overthrow early in the year. He struggled after opening the season in Arizona's bullpen and carried a 9.90 ERA into an exhibition with the Triple-A Tucson Sidewinders on April 6. He retired all six batters he faced on three popups and three strikeouts, including fanning current Diamondbacks second baseman Scott Hairston.
That earned him his first start of the year that weekend against UCLA, and he won the first of his nine straight decisions in the rotation.
"Pretty much what I got from that was confidence," Meloan said. "I got out some guys who are in the major leagues now by just throwing strikes consistently. I figured if I can get out these guys, I can get out college hitters."
Brown's path to the starting lineup was similar to Meloan's; it sprung from confidence that grew with success.
Brown hit three home runs in 25 games as a freshman and began the year as a reserve to Pat Reilly at first base. He collected just one hit in his first 15 at-bats to open 2004. Reilly struggled as well, and a pinch-hit RBI single in the opener of a March 6 doubleheader against Sacramento State earned Brown the start in the nightcap. He added three hits in that game and became the everyday starter.
"Jordan has always had power," Meloan said. "I know from facing him in intrasquad games. He's a real competitor and kind of pressed early on fighting for a spot in the lineup. Once he got it, he took off."
Brown entered super-regionals as the team leader with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs, but went 0-for-13 against Long Beach State. He broke his slump with a 2-for-5 game Friday in the CWS opener against Georgia. But Lopez moved Brown, a lefthanded hitter, from the middle of the order down to eighth Sunday because of his recent struggles and with lefthander Clint Brannon starting for Arkansas.
He broke out of that slump with a homer to lead off the second inning. Then with a man on in the third, he hit a stunningly similar shot that again traveled well into the right-flied bleachers.
"To me, as long as I'm playing at this stage of the season, it doesn't matter where I'm batting, as long as I get my hacks in," Brown said. "They're going to pitch me the same way no matter where I hit. My batting eighth had nothing to with an extra motive to do well. If you need that, you're playing the wrong game."
Brown's duties as unlikely hero fit right in with the feisty persona the Wildcats (36-26-1) have displayed during their improved play during the season's second half.
"Jordan has been a neat story--both Jordan and John and Brad Boyer as well," Lopez said. "We've basically got three kids who in February didn't really exist in this program. The big thing about this club is they don't take anything personally in terms of moving in and out of the lineup, or from third to eighth. It's a percentages decision against facing a lefthander.
"If that motivated him, maybe he's going to bat eighth for the rest of his career."